Let’s get this out of the way first: The worst part of Evil Urges is the admittedly crapola cover art. But then, nobody buys records these days anyhow, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem (oh, how we kid — besides, Coverflow). Seriously, though — parts of My Morning Jacket’s fifth studio album are schizo (“Highly Suspicious,” anyone?) but the 13 tracks (and tiny, screeching “Good Intentions” sample that close the record) eventually do congeal into a powerful whole. If you give it some time. There are more than a few immediate standouts like the excellent title track (we’ve all heard that one by now) and a couple songs that lodged themselves into our eardrums the moment we heard them at Jim James’ pin-drop quiet SXSW solo set: The instantly classic, post-James Taylor “Sec Walkin’” (“left leg, right leg, one leg at a time, I keep on walkin’….”) and beautifully emotional, Rocky Mountain high “Look At You” (“such a glowing example of peace and glory…”). The latter would be comfortable on any soft rock station, and felt especially fitting when we listened to it in church, but each track has enough power to kick it like the bad-ass Kentucky roots-rock it is…

What else? How can you not love the reverberant sexy librarian story, “Librarian” and its patient scene sketching (the insects, the stairwell, and the hall of books, “since we got the Interweb, these [books] hardly get used…”), dissection of mirrors (“when God gave us mirrors he had no idea”), Karen Carpenter (see mirrors), and plea for the bookworm to please take off her glasses and let down her hair. It’s Kristofferson smooth, then they bring on the sleigh bells and strings. EU’s not all quiet epiphany. If James still had long hair, he’d been letting it fly during the feedbacking/soloing “Aluminum Park” (totally catchy cord changes here) and “Remnants,” which opens with a dub echo before blasting outward with a riff, sorry, that sounds a tad Kravitz in its bluesiness. Outside of that, across the record, the guitars constantly drip with gorgeousness.

Favorites include the aforementioned “Sec Walkin’,” “Look At You,” “Smokin’ From Shootin’”’s Head-y crescendo, the Southern-fried sing-a-long “I’m Amazed” and the gentle, grooved Crosby, Stills, and Nash-ness of “Thank You, Too” (yeah, it’s pretty lite, but it’s also pretty pretty). And, how about the smoothed, shuffling, synthesized, and double-tracked “It Beats For You”-cousin “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream,” and its partner, the bulkier, carnival-organ and funky drum revisioning of previously previewed “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Part 2,” etc. These are good songs.

Evil Urges isn’t steeped in their signature reverb and there isn’t as much jamming as you’ll find on It Still Moves. But it finds MMJ continuing their Z-zagging path through myriad musical genres, moving away from past sounds into a newer realm, while still maintaining enough of what drew us to them in the first place. Now, though, when we say Fleet Foxes or Band Of Horses sound like MMJ, we’ll have to qualify it: They sound like MMJ used to sound. “I’ve gotten tired of normal rock & roll sounds,” James recently told Rolling Stone. “My ultimate goal is to hopefully turn people on to different types of music.” Well we’re digging Evil Urges, Jim, and we’d classify it as “different.” So, you win.

Now that that’s out of the way: We still don’t know what to make of “Highly Suspicious.” On second thought, a peanut butter pudding surprise does sound high-ly del-ici-ous.

Evil Urges is out 6/10 on ATO.

Comments (57)
  1. this is a respectable review. people are going to hate, though. the three sections of this record make it quite the journey, and it is definitely more cohesive than Z. pitchfork, please don’t review this album. you can’t touch jim james.

    • Arya  |   Posted on May 1st, 2008 0

      I fell in love with this album on the second listen. I’m not sure why you guys don’t know what to make of Hilghy Suspicious – yes, it’s very different from what were used to from them but it fits into the album pretty nicely.

  2. Stephen B  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    I mostly agree with this review, and am enjoying the album, but I’m afraid a lot of people (read: older fans) might be scared off by the un-MMJ-ness of the first 3 tracks, even though the rest of the album would probably appeal to them. We’re a long way from the Tennessee Fire with this one, and I think we’re going to hear a lot of mixed opinions.

  3. Z was an amazing album, so i jsut hope this album gets the job done and just sounds good overall. im excited though like two more months waiting though!

  4. drmistic  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    I though the line in highly suspicious was “peanut butter Pulitzer prize”…damn

  5. I for one love “Highly Suspicious” and hope they make a video of it. With Muppets. Lots.

  6. matt  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    Link? Is this on the torrents?

  7. josh  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    seems like chant in highly suspicious is a nod to tom waits

  8. “touch me pt. 1″ kills

  9. “It Still Moves” remains MMJ’s highwater mark, but I love to hear that they’re not relying on what’s worked in the past. Hell of a band, here. Looking forward to hearing this one!

  10. pedro  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    Thats my SG!

    How ironic is it that Jim James wrote “The Way That He Sings” and his lyrics are always kind of embarassing.

    I love love love MMJ (including the dorky lyrics) but it is kind of funny.

  11. pedro  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    Thats my SG!

    How ironic is it that Jim James wrote “The Way That He Sings” and his lyrics are always kind of embarassing.

    I love love love MMJ (including the dorky lyrics) but it is kind of funny.

  12. pedro  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    Also, the chorus on “Highly Suspicious” sounds like its being sung by Joseph Gribble from King of the Hill

  13. the “highly suspicious” chant resembles the following:
    1. Olmec, the statue from Legends of the Hidden Temple.
    2. Strongbad as Trogdor
    3. Something from Disneyland’s Tiki room.

  14. I think this album is fresh, creative, and ballsy as hell. And Pitchfork can toss as many convoluted, SAT-word-laden sentences as they want at it, it won’t change my opinion that it’s awesome. To the left, to the left.

  15. the album definitely is a journey.
    “Librarian” is eaaasily of the best songs they’ve ever made though, if only because of the lyrics. the restraint it shows to carry those along is chilling. such a beautiful, captivating song.

    the others are all growing on me. i wish i had a video of my friends and i reacting to the craziness of the first three songs.

  16. the album definitely is a journey.
    “Librarian” is eaaasily of the best songs they’ve ever made though in my opinion. i love it. if only because of the lyrics. the restraint it shows to carry those along is chilling. such awesome lyrics.

    the others are all growing on me. i wish i had a video of my friends and i reacting to the craziness of the first three songs.

  17. I’m on the fence here…they’ve gone so far from their original sound that I love so much. “At Dawn” remains one of my top 5 favorite records of the last 10 years (especially when coupled with the “At Dawn” bonus disc). I kinda appreciate that they want to stretch their legs, but I have a strong suspicion that even after a few more listens it is just going to make me want to go back and listen to the older material that much more.

    I’m sure the new tracks will be great live though, as most all of their material is.

  18. tylenolmonkey  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    This album is pretty mediocre in my opinion. And “Highly Suspicious” is freaking awful, awful, awful… Even though there are some strong songs here, there are a number of boring throwaways (as well as the unlistenable Highly Suspicious). So this is a large step down from Z, which didn’t have a bad song on it. Sometimes a band sets the bar too high even for themselves…Evil Urges is the proof.

  19. Brad  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2008 0

    Uuuuh… Where are you guys getting this album? I haven’t looked very hard for it yet, but I’d be surprised if it has already leaked.

  20. Jim  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    Then what have I been listening to almost exclusively for the past four days? Heh.

    It’s a great, great record, and a big step up from Z, which is easily the most complacent MMJ record-although it stands revealed now as a transitional album. They manage to incorporate gospel soul and beefy funk strains into their sound as if they’d been doing it all along. The title track is outrageously perfect and Smokin’ from Shootin’ ain’t far behind.

  21. distorto  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    It has leaked. Search btjunkie… you’ll find it.

  22. DS48  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    great review stereogum, except i’m not quite sure yet whether the lyrics in “Sec’ Walkin” are too cliche. maybe not. i found this yesterday and im definitely going to be launching myself into a 3-day “Evil Urges” bender. i do have a question though. what happens when this album debuts #1 and they wind up on the cover of RS? (other than, of course, pitchfork throwing a shitfit)

  23. andy  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    is it just me or does “highly suspicious” remind you of a cameo track? i don’t know if i like it because it’s interesting or if it is just a glorified train-wreck.

  24. The cover reminds me of starbucks artwork. Cheesy photoshop layering that could have been done 7 years ago with relative ease.

  25. Stever Anderson  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    How can you judge the artwork, without actually having it in your hand. A tiny jpeg of what is most likely the promo art, shouldn’t be enough for you

  26. stolinych  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0
  27. Austin  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    People are taking “Highly Suspicious” waaaaaay too seriously. It’s a goofy track, get over it

  28. Andrew  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    I second that “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1″ kills

  29. Sean Jean  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    Just as I suspected: This album rules.

  30. Tony  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    Yes, highly suspicious is all meant in good fun, and will be a great live song to change up the pace. Imagine highly suspicious into cobra into touch me part 2… woaah.

  31. Jay  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    Agree, this album kicks ass and has a lot of fun doing it. Not caught up in all the snobbery that can be found in music these days. Also, apparently David Berman doesn’y like MMJ.


  32. The first time I listened to this record, my face melted off. It kind of looked like this:


    But in a good way.

  33. I never thought a couple years back that I would have become such a MMJ fan – they were not generally within my style-range.

    But because of their bravery in exploration and almost obstinate refusal to repeat themselves, I am now one of their most fervent supporters.

    EVIL URGES is, in a word, SUPERB. I knew they would come around to my way of thinking eventually… (insert smiley face here)

  34. johnideal  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    I consider myself an avid fan of MMJ. To put it in perspective, they are one of the handful of bands whose new material warrants immediate, attention-focused listening as soon as it’s in my hands.

    I love all of their albums, but I feel that Z is their most consistent. I’ve loved all their other albums, but rarely have I been able to listen to them as wholes; Z was a step towards a consistent, album-wide expression, while I feel their others were collections of songs – great songs, but still, not an album the way that Z was.

    I feel that Evil Urges has some great tracks (it will take a few listens for me to be comfortable with Highly Suspicious), but I feel like it’s a step away from Z, and a step towards their older material.

    I’m not bashing it; it’s up to which of their styles you like best to determine if this is a good thing for you – just my two cents.

  35. Matt  |   Posted on Apr 24th, 2008 0

    This album fucking rules…plain and simple, unlike the songs, which are by far the weirdest and coolest batch of tunes they’ve ever put on one record. I think people take ‘Highly Suspicious’ wayyyy too seriously too. Probably because it’s BY FAR the most unlikely of songs to be put on an mmj album. The ‘Smokin’ From Shootin’ > ‘Touch Me Part 2′ double-headed fucking monster rivals ‘Lay Low’ > ‘Dondante’ from “Z”, and could go down as the best ending to an album ever.

  36. Yes, “Highly Suspicious” is definitely Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. I can picture Kirk Fog and the Blue Barracudas now…

    …anyway the album is pretty solid on the first listen, it’s a little more adventurous and not as immediately rewarding as, say, Z–which means we have a GROWER on our hands here…

  37. I am excited about this one. Love the first song.

  38. dbeck  |   Posted on Apr 28th, 2008 0

    I keep reading how “Highly Suspicious” is a goofy track, how it’s not to be taken seriously. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s not a good song. I will compare it to Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” on OK Computer (although Evil Urges cannot be compared to OK Computer): The track isn’t God-awful so I will probably listen through it and get used to it at some point because the rest of the album is great, but it will never stand out and I will always be looking forward to the upcoming track.

  39. Surface to air  |   Posted on Apr 28th, 2008 0

    To me, MMJ is at their best when they’re channeling Neil Young and the Band, not Prince and Saturday morning cartoons. If you wanna call this album growth go ahead but it sounds like the opposite to me.The last thing I want to hear is MMJ turning into a twee band that’s dropped the mystery in favor of cutesy nostalgia and gimmicky hooks. I am not a fan

  40. Brian Garcia  |   Posted on Apr 29th, 2008 0

    The general reaction to this album will be as polarizing as ‘Sky Blue Sky’ was last year.

  41. OB  |   Posted on Apr 29th, 2008 0

    Say what you want about ‘Highly Suspicious’ — but there is no denying it’s gonna be fun as hell live.

  42. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

    1) Evil Urges – MONSTER JAM
    2) Touch Me I?m Going To Scream Part 1 – Jam
    3) Highly Suspicious – Jam
    4) I?m Amazed – Jam
    5) Thank You Too – Crap!
    6) Sec Walkin? – Jam
    7) Two Halves – MONSTER JAM
    8) Librarian – Crap!
    9) Look At You – MONSTER JAM
    10) Aluminum Park – MONSTER JAM
    11) Remnants – Jam
    12) Smokin? From Shootin? – MONSTER JAM
    13) Touch Me I?m Going To Scream Part 2 – MONSTER JAM
    14) Good Intentions – Jam

    Jam To Crap Score: 24/42 – *57.1%*


  43. Jonny  |   Posted on May 1st, 2008 0

    I just watched them at Coachella and they played several Songs off the Evil Urges album. AMAZING. All My Morning Jacket albums take some time to appreciate, but once you get it,the music is so good that sometimes you just feel like your floating when listening to it. Truly one of the great joys in life. Highly Suspicious rocks. It will be the weirdest song I ever love.

  44. Reid  |   Posted on May 1st, 2008 0

    “Highly Suspicious” = MMJ covering Ween covering Prince.

  45. FastEddy  |   Posted on May 2nd, 2008 0

    I admit I was really shocked at the three tracks and was pretty sure that I had a fake on my hands. What a departure in sound.. the falsetto, the FAAAAAT drums, the twinkling poppy guitar lines… but damn son, the brilliant song-writing remains, and is characteristically MMJ. I’m making love to this album, sweet sweet love. Both the “touch ME”s and Smokin’ from Shootin’ are brill. What gets me about the whole thing is how they made the mad variety work out somehow. Listening fron to back it makes sense, seems coherent. Listen to Highly Suspicious and Sec Walking back to back though and you wonder how it can possibly be the same band.

  46. This album kills. While I’ll always love At Dawn and It Still Moves, this album is quickly becoming a favorite. I have these songs stuck in my head all day long – and in a way that makes them seem like I’ve been listening to them from birth. Jim James is brilliant if you ask me.

    Counting down the days til they rock my face off during their Bonnaroo late night set. If you were there in 06 then you know what I mean.

  47. Kzzzz  |   Posted on May 4th, 2008 0

    Yeah definitely thought it was a joke after the first three tracks, but stuck with it and it turns out pretty good, I think Sec Walkin and Look at You are among their best songs ever. I’m still not a big fan of those first three, but i totally appreciate James wanting to try something different, you almost never see that in popular music today

  48. cookinghand  |   Posted on May 10th, 2008 0

    All hail Jim James and crew!! re inventing their sound once again, and by god it works. This album has been on repeat for the last week for me! SNL tonight, and I hope they play Highly Suspicious for all you haters hating…

  49. Jake  |   Posted on May 11th, 2008 0

    I got into a big fight with three of four guys over Highly Suspicious. I told them it sucked and was easily the worst song of MMJ’s career and then they read me the riot act. They said I was just mad because they don’t sound like they did when they made It Still Moves. “No”, I said, “I like it when a band can try something different. But this song sucks.” We went back and forth, etc. Anyways, long story short… I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thought it completely sucked balls.

  50. mmm  |   Posted on May 15th, 2008 0

    “Chord” has an aitch.

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